I’m going to make an attempt to pick out my favourites of 2009, although I’m bound to miss some. I really need to re-read a couple of books that might have made this list, but deciding on the basis on a single read-through isn’t my practice e.g. Carrie Etter’s The Tethers (Seren) and D.A. Powell’s Chronic (Graywolf). I also need to finish a few collections that seemed to demand a gradual approach – so gradual that I’ve still not made it to the end e.g. Brian Johnstone’s The Book of Belongings (Arc), Liz Gallagher’s The Wrong Miracle (Salt), and Merle Lyn Bachman’s Diorama with Fleeing Figures (Shearsman).
Of books I have finished this year and read thoroughly, here are my favourites. First of all, those published in 2009: I read Andrew Philip’s The Ambulance Box (Salt) as it emerged in manuscript form and the final book version is really excellent; Claire Crowther’s The Clockwork Gift (Shearsman) displays a refreshingly original approach to language, even stronger than her fine debut collection; Roddy Lumsden’s Third Wish Wasted (Bloodaxe) contains several outstanding poems and has strength in depth – I can’t even begin to fathom why it hasn’t appeared on this year’s prize shortlists; C.L. Dallat’s The Year of Not Dancing (Blackstaff) also has some great poems, written with real skill; Richard Price’s Rays (Carcanet) is just amazing in its range, formal dexterity and invention – his best collection yet; much the same could be said of Tony Williams’s debut, The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street (Salt).
I’ll also mention a couple of pamphlets/chapbooks published this year – James Robertson’s Hem and Heid (Kettillonia) was entertaining and very well written; Mark Halliday’s No Panic Here (HappenStance) breathes new life into irony as a poetic technique, and was a highly enjoyable read.
Now for a few books I read this year but weren’t published in 2009: I read through all four of Michael Hofmann’s collections (all Faber) – brilliant stuff, of course; Mark Ford’s Soft Sift (Faber, 2001) was really good, influenced by Ashbery but only good Ashbery; I was blown away by Robert Archambeau’s Home and Variations (Salt 2005) – a really terrific book and another which displays astonishing range; Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts, was re-published by Bloodaxe this year (the poem was originally published in 1966, so it really belongs in this section) together with a CD of Bunting reading the poem and a DVD of a Channel 4 documentary about Bunting – everyone should read it and take plenty of time doing so. The book/CD/DVD package is great.
Finally, for anyone interested in publishing poems, I’d thoroughly recommend Helena Nelson’s How [Not] To Get Your Poetry Published (HappenStance 2009, £5), which contains all the advice you’ll ever need on the subject, besides being an entertaining, funny and painfully honest take on the subject.